Jersey City councilman Steven Fulop calls the past year since his reelection to his Ward E seat last May a “lost year” for Jersey City.
“The city, under the Healy administration, could have seen changes in government to make it run better,” said Fulop in an interview last week. “With the July 23 corruption scandal, with Governor Christie cutting state aid, and the people coming to the council meetings, the city could have made the necessary cuts in government, but that didn’t happen, which is disappointing.”
“I find I am learning more from the people.” – Steven Fulop
Fulop has served on the City Council since 2005. He won his second term last year by over 30 points against Healy-backed challenger Guy Catrillo, who was later arrested in the July 23, 2009 corruption sweep and is currently serving time in federal prison.
Fulop looked back at a year for him that was both politically and personally tumultuous, yet also rewarding, since he has become the front runner among the political figures who could next seek the mayor’s office.
A year of pursuing change
Fulop said the slogan for the Healy election ticket – “Delivering change you can see” – was an ironic counterpoint to the “unfavorable” changes the city has experienced.
“We have seen a massive tax increase in the city, a budget that was ten months late, and of course, the July 23 arrests,” Fulop said. “And what those arrests have done is cripple government and not having an engaged, effective government.”
The arrests of 44 political and religious figures last July included a number of Jersey City residents who ran for office, including several on Mayor Healy’s team – Catrillo, Phil Kenny and Mariano Vega – as well as his deputy mayor, Leona Beldini, who was found guilty of two counts of bribery by a federal jury in February. She appealed the two counts but they were both upheld by a federal judge on Monday.
Fulop thinks the July 23 arrests created “a window of opportunity” that enabled the passage in September of a pay-to-play ordinance, sponsored by him. It prevents developers from making campaign contributions while negotiating to become the designated contractor in any redevelopment agreement with the city.
Fulop also said the November election of Republican Gov. Christopher Christie – who has pushed for $14 million in cuts in state aid to Jersey City for the upcoming fiscal year – created a “climate” of fiscal responsibility in which councilman proposed cost-cutting measures to balance the city’s recently passed $509.8 million budget.
“It’s good to have someone on a senior level touting some of the same things,” said Fulop of Christie, with whom he disagrees on other issues, such as how he has dealt with public employees.
The measure Fulop proposed, which the City Council rejected, called for eliminating health benefits for board members of the Jersey City Incinerator Authority and Municipal Authority, which would have saved the city about $2 million. Instead, the council passed a bill crafted by the Healy administration that called for the board members to pay 20 percent of their health costs, which Fulop called “disheartening.”
He was also disappointed that he didn’t get more support when he proposed a bill to eliminate cars for city employee use. That legislation was voted down as well.
Instead, the council approved an ordinance in March forbidding reintroduction of rejected legislation for at six months, a move widely seen as targeting Fulop’s persistent efforts to introduce reform measures.
What he looks to change
Fulop said the past year has changed him for the future. More time has been “demanded” of him to not only study issues but also meet with more people, not just in Ward E but across the city.
As an “undeclared” future mayoral candidate, Fulop has been doing more “Meet-and-Greet” events in the homes of residents, where they pose questions to him. Fulop said he forwards any complaint from constituents outside his ward to the council member representing that individual.
“I try to educate them on the issues affecting the city, as many of them have become more concerned about how this city is being run,” Fulop said. “But I find I am learning more from the people.”
However, Fulop feels not “completely comfortable” with being the mayoral frontrunner because while the local Democratic Party has a “lack of leadership” that gives him an advantage, it has created a situation where he is not able to gauge who will oppose him in the next mayoral election in 2013.
In the meantime, he is proposing legislation and studying issues that address residents’ concerns for the coming year.
One of the issues he is looking at in the near future is the upcoming tax revaluation, which he opposes. The revaluation is an appraisal of all real estate in the city to determine its value for taxation, with the expectation that properties will be appraised at or near their current market value. However, some residents are concerned that their homes will be found to be worth more and they will have to pay higher taxes.
Also, Fulop will push for a restructuring of both the city’s police and fire departments to eliminate excess positions that have been created for reasons of “cronyism.” He pointed to the promotions last week of five Fire Department captains to battalion chiefs, saying the city cannot afford them even though the firemen are foregoing the raise that comes with the promotion (see related story).
“Ultimately, I will be judged by my performance on the council in serving the people until my term ends,” Fulop said.
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.